Friday, 23 August 2013

Friday Five: Animal Tales

Recently I re-read The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell. I loved this book as a child with its wild stallions and blissful backdrop. I was hooked from the opening sentence.

"Once there was a dark stormy spring, when deep down in their holes, the wombats knew not to come out, when the possums stayed quiet in their hollow limbs, when the great, black flying phalangers that live in the mountain forests never stirred."
Although I had no comprehension of this landscape, I loved the book and vowed one day to go to the Snowy Mountains. Having now been, I have a whole new appreciation for this evocative set of books.

It reminded me of how much I enjoyed animal stories as a child, and still do as an adult, even though they are often terribly sad. Him Outdoors and I went to see the National Theatre production of War Horse and as I shed a tear and looked to him apologetically (expecting a comment along the lines of, ‘what’s up now, you daft apeth’) only to find him snivelling and snuffling himself.

So here is a list of favourite animal stories. Of course, there are some omissions. When I read Goodnight Mr Tom, the old man’s dog made a strong impression on me, but when I looked up a synopsis, there was no mention of the dog at all, so I probably can’t classify that as an ‘animal story’. The same goes for Roald Dahl’s The Witches although (SPOILER ALERT), when the boy gets turned into a mouse and knows he will only have a short lifespan, he is content because he doesn’t want to out-live his grandmother, and because, “it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”

Everybody knows that Animal Farm has very little to do with animals, and Winnie the Pooh doesn’t count because the animals are stuffed toys. Please feel free to add yours.

5 Favourite Books about Animals:
  1. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame: I grew up with Ratty and Mole and Badger and Mr Toad. Their river was my river and their woods were my woods. I loved them. And I wholeheartedly agree that “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
  2. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell: the death of Ginger broke my nine-year old heart. This book is described in the Encyclopaedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare as “the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time”. Anna Sewell’s depiction of the cruelty of the bearing rein (used to keep horse’s heads held high while pulling carriages) caused outrage and the practice was subsequently declared illegal in Victorian England.
  3. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burford: Cats and dogs can be friends! And they travel through Canada together! And it has a happy ending!
  4. Watership Down – Richard Adams: The Animal Farm of the rabbit world. Adams places the individual and the collective against the corporate and the establishment. I can never look at fluffy bunnies in the same way again.
  5. Tarka the Otter – Henry Williamson: one of the most stressful endings ever.

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